Jean Valjean

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Jean Valjean (also referred to as "Monsieur Madeleine," "Ultime Fauchelevent," "Monsieur Leblanc," "Urbain Fabre," "24601" and "9430"; c. 1769-1833) is the protagonist of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables. The character's twenty year-long struggle with the law for stealing bread (5 years for the theft, 12 years for four attempted escapes and 2 years for fighting back during one escape attempt) during a time of economic and social depression - along with police inspector Javert, who relentlessly pursues Valjean - has become archetypal in literary culture. While in prison, he was first labeled 24601 then labeled 9403. Only the first number is mentioned in the musical.

Valjean's character in Les Misérables forces the reader to evaluate their sense of good and evil and live in an existence of duality with the novel's antagonist. His struggle highlights man's capacity for cruelty to his fellow man. As a parolee, Valjean is branded an outcast and his passport (his identification card) is yellow colored - marking him as a former offender. Valjean would be judged by social standards as evil - a known criminal and a parolee - yet grows morally to represent the best traits of humanity. Valjean becomes a repentant, honorable, dignified man after his encounter with the Bishop Myriel of Digne; he is kind to all he encounters, a devoted father, and a benefactor to those in need.

Contents

Valjean in the novel

Part One: Fantine

Even though Jean Valjean is unarguably the novel's main protagonist, he is only introduced in the second book of Part One.

Valjean was born sometime in 1769 (most likely before October) in the small town of Faverolles, the son of Jean Valjean and Jeanne Valjean, née Mathieu. Both parents die when he is still a child; the father falls from a tree, the mother dies of a milk fever, and his older sister Jeanne raises him. He becomes a pruner, like his father before him. Jeanne is married to an unnamed man, who dies in 1794, with whom she has seven children, all born between 1786 and 1793.

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